If you are under 21 and you purchase, possess or consume an alcoholic beverage, then you can be charged with underage possession of alcohol under VA Code § 4.1-305. You can actually be charged even if you simply attempt to purchase, possess, or consume alcohol. Calling this offense underage possession of alcohol is actually somewhat misleading. The police do not need to see you physically holding a beverage in order to arrest you. If you appear intoxicated, the police have probable cause to stop you, question whether you have been drinking, and administer a breath test. Of course, if you are ever confronted with this situation, you should respectfully decline to answer any questions from the police and ask to speak to your lawyer. If you or one of your children did speak to the police and were subsequently arrested, we advise that you seek counsel from an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.
How an Underage Possession Charge Can Affect Your Life
Research indicates that underage drinking accounts for 11% of all alcohol consumed in the U.S. Even though it is a very common offense, an underage drinking conviction can still have serious consequences and significantly impact your life. If you’re a high school or college student, a conviction could result in loss of potential scholarships, denied admission, dismissal from an athletic organization, or even expulsion. Obviously the potential penalties will vary from one school to the next, and we encourage you to examine your school’s code of conduct in order to fully understand what you may be facing.
Underage Possession Penalties
With respect to penalties and court processes, Virginia distinguishes individuals who are under 18 years of age from those who are between 18 and 20 years old. However, regardless of your age, an underage possession conviction is classified as a Class 1 Misdemeanor and can carry a minimum fine of $500, probation, and 50 hours of community service.
- If you are under 18 – If you are under 18 years old at the time of your alleged offense, you will be charged as a minor in possession of alcohol and your case will go through the Virginia Juvenile Court process. This process does not significantly differ from the adult court process, but it means that rather than having your case heard in a Virginia General District Court, your case will be filed in Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court. You may also be subject to a driver’s license suspension of at least six months but not more than one year. If your license is suspended, your attorney may be able to negotiated restricted driving privileges.
- If you are between 18 and 21 – If you are between 18 and 21 years old at the time of your alleged offense, you may have your driver’s license suspended in addition to the penalties listed above. However, there is not a mandatory license suspension like there is for offenders under 18, but the judge still reserves the right to suspend your license at his or her discretion. Some colleges will also impose discipline if you are a student at the time of the offense.
Defense of Underage Possession
The defense of any particular case is dependent upon the details of the case and of your arrest. However, there are a few general defenses that could be employed by an experienced criminal lawyer. For example, there could have been issue with the breathalyzer that was used to determine your BAC, the police may have questioned you without probable cause, or your charge falls within one of the following exceptions:
Employment. If a minor’s employment requires him or her to deliver alcohol, i.e. in a restaurant setting, said minor may deliver, though not mix or pour, the beverage.
Parent/Guardian Supervision. A minor may possess and consume alcohol when served by an adult in a private residence. He or she must be accompanied by parent, guardian, or adult spouse 21 years of age or older.
Even if the prosecution has enough evidence to prove your guilt, your defense attorney may still have another option to help you defer and eventually avoid a guilty discharge on your record. If this is your first Underage Possession of Alcohol charge, then you may be eligible for a first time offender program. This program requires that you complete an alcohol education program that is provided by the Virginia Alcohol Safety Action Program (VASAP). If you complete this program and avoid any additional legal issues during your probation period, then the court will dismiss the charges against you. It’s important to note that enrollment into the first time offender program is only given at the discretion of the court, so it’s very important that you have a criminal lawyer who is willing to do everything they can to get you first offender status.
Facing Underage Alcohol Charges in Virginia?
If you’ve been charged with underage possession of alcohol in Virginia, the experienced Roanoke alcohol lawyers at Copenhaver, Ellett & Derrico can help evaluate the details of your case and your options. For an appointment at our office, call us at (540) 343-9349.